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Peer Review

This guide will help you understand what a peer-reviewed article is, how to find them, and how to identify them "in the wild".

What is peer-review?

What is Peer Review

Peer review (or Refereeing) is a publication process applied to both primary articles (i.e. original research) and secondary or review articles (i.e. articles summarizing or reviewing primary research) whereby independent experts within the field (known as peers or referees) review or vet an article before it is published. This process ensures that the article meets an identified standard before it's published and improves the quality of papers overall. Through the review process, we can trust that the article is more likely to be valid and reach logical conclusions. 

The peer-review is a lengthy and highly competitive process. It can take up to a year to complete and very few manuscripts are successful.

It is important to understand that just because an article successfully makes it through the review process, doesn't mean that it is correct or conclusive or even that the reviewers agree with the conclusions - just that it met the standards specified by the journal.

The Peer Review Process

The Peer Review Process

The process: 

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Researchers...

  1. Have an idea, theory or hypothesis they want to explore,
  2. Complete the research,
  3. Write their paper,
  4. Submit the paper to the journal editor/publisher,
  5. Editor sends the paper to the reviewers,
  6. The reviewers send it back to the editor with… approval, request for revisions, or rejection,
  7. Once the publisher approves it gets published *yay!*
 

Example of Review Process from the Journal of Nursing Education webpage

"All manuscripts undergo pre-publication double-blind peer review by the Editorial Board and reviewers. Final decisions regarding manuscript disposition are made by the Editors, and the Editors mediate all interactions between reviewers and authors. Authors are notified by e-mail as soon as possible about the acceptability of their manuscript. When authors are asked to revise their manuscript following peer review, the Journal’s general policy is to permit only one major revision. When the second round of peer review results in recommendations for further substantive revision, in most instances, the manuscript will not be accepted. Only in rare and unusual circumstances will authors be permitted an opportunity to revise and resubmit the manuscript a second time for final consideration."

Different journals have different standards and processes. Some review types include: 

  • Double-Blind - the author doesn't know who's reviewing - the reviewers don't know who they are reviewing. This is probably the most unbiased as the article stands on its own - not on the reputation of the author.
  • Single Blind - the author doesn't know who's reviewing - the reviewers know who the author is. 
  • Open review - reviewer comments and author replies are openly available for discussion prior to publication.

What are the Peers (or Referees) Looking for?

What are the Peers (or Referees) Looking for? 

The standards that an article must meet to pass peer-review varies from journal to journal. The typical qualities include: 

  • High-quality,
  • Accurate,
  • Logical,
  • Original, and
  • Meets the scope and standards of the journal, publisher, field.

In "8 reasons I accepted your article" editors from Elsevier, a major publishing house and host to ScienceDirect database, describe what they are looking for when they are accepting (or rejecting) a manuscript. Some of the points included:

  • Provides "new insight into important issues" and is useful to decision-makers
  • Stimulates new questions and ideas
  • Advances or proposes a new theory
  • Applies methods that are appropriate, rigorous and support the conclusions
  • Refers to previous research

The Journal of Gerontological Nursing states on its website: 

"All submissions will be evaluated using the following criteria:

  • The importance and relevance of the topic to gerontological nursing care; the generalizability of the ideas/research findings.
  • Readability; concise, logical ordering of ideas.
  • Sound rationale for ideas, including background.
  • Adequate documentation of ideas; citation of recent and relevant literature.
  • Appropriateness of inquiry methods, including design, sample, instruments, and procedures, if research.
  • Accuracy of content; soundness of conclusions."

What is NOT peer-reviewed?

What is NOT peer-reviewed

Even though the journal my be listed as 'peer-reviewed' that doesn't mean that all content within its covers is actually reviewed. 

Editorials, opinions, letters, book reviews and other 'non-articles' may not go through the review process. This varies from journal to journal so its best to check the journal's peer review policy and/or publication information to be sure - even then it may be at the discretion of the editor.

Example from Nature: International Journal of Science

"The following types of contribution to Nature Research journals are peer-reviewed: Articles, Letters, Brief Communications, Matters Arising, Technical Reports, Analysis, Resources, Reviews, Perspectives, and Insight articles. Correspondence and all forms of published correction may also be peer-reviewed at the discretion of the editors.

Other contributed articles are not usually peer-reviewed. Nevertheless, articles published in these sections, particularly if they present technical information, may be peer-reviewed at the discretion of the editors."

Example from Relational Child and Youth Care Practice journal (may need to log in to access)

"Relational Child and Youth Care Practice may include Peer Reviewed contributions. Please notice that we say
may include and specifically not the full contents of the journal. We will still continue to publish stories, case
studies, thought pieces, experiential descriptions and other forms of writing which will not be peer reviewed.

In this way we aim to strike a balance between the values of Peer Reviewed articles and experiential voices
from the field."

from RCYCP's website

"Each issue may include: refereed articles that comply with acceptable ‘academic’ standards" and "Peer Review is available on request."

This information can be tough to find as most statements focus on the articles and the peer review process - not what they don't review. Examine peer-review or submission policy for descriptions of what is and isn't peer-reviewed. 

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